"We should practice the art of enjoying the immediate, the nearby. We need to cultivate simple tastes, and learn to be content in our present circumstances. In so doing, we will discover that the simple life brings us the greatest satisfaction."

Esther Bowman (Canada: 1987) in Haas, p. 252

Ever since the beginning of the Anabaptist movement, these groups have struggled with their identity. Being "disciples" or followers of Christ should make us different from those around us, they reasoned. The question is, what should these differences be? What aspects of "the world" are OK, and which ones should be avoided? These continue to be important questions today. After all, we do live in Canada, but how much should we adapt to the culture, beliefs, and practices of those around us? When does "conforming" become a negative thing? As you may have already guessed, Mennonites in Canada would offer many different answers to these questions. 

Differing approaches

Martin's Mennonite Meetinghouse near Waterloo, Ontario (30 Kb): Mennonite Historical Archives of Ontario (1990- 11.20), photo by Sam Steiner
Old Order Mennonite Meetinghouse near Waterloo, Ontario (1993)

The Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite groups provide the most drastic answer to these questions. The most conservative communities do not have electricity or telephones on their property, use no farm machinery, and drive horses and buggies. They dress in "plain" dark clothes, speak their own language, and worship in their own churches; in short, they are the people who many think of when they hear the term "Amish" or even "Mennonite."

Other Mennonite churches also stress the importance of being different from the surrounding culture, but do not require certain clothing or reject particular aspects of modern technology. The sheer number of websites listed under "Mennonite" on the internet attests to this. Nonetheless, these groups still believe that new technological possibilities need to be tempered with sound judgement. In other words, just because people can do something does not necessarily mean that they should!

Similar thinking

Peace Mennonite Church, Vancouver, B.C., 1986 (27 Kb): Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario (CGC 10.10.578)
Peace Mennonite Church, Vancouver, B.C. (1986)

Although at first glance these might look like totally different approaches, they have many similarities. Perhaps the most important is that both emphasize the attitude one has towards the "world." The Amish do not necessarily believe that certain clothing or technology is "evil," but that clothes are outward signs of internal attitudes.

Both groups also assume that being a Christian, following Jesus, affects every aspect of life. Jobs, clothes, money, and relationships - in short, everything comes under the authority and guidance of God. It is not a matter of God wanting us to wear this and not that; it is a matter of God wanting us.

Mennonites believe that clothes, cars, technology, and many other things can distract us from what is really important. They can get in the way of our hearing or paying attention to the will of God. Perhaps the differences between more conservative and liberal Mennonites could best be described as different tolerance levels for these potential distractions.

Created 1998 by Derek Suderman